It’s Halloween again, so if you don’t normally partake in things that make you shiver in fear and anticipation, now’s the time to give it a try! I, for one, can’t deal with zombie movies. (No judgement! Zombies may move slowly, but they’re tenacious and keep coming at you.) So here are some other ideas.
• Have you read Dracula? Seriously . . . if you have not read Dracula, you need to read it. Now. I read it in high school and was a little meh about it. But I re-read it a few years ago, and I was freaked the heck out! Like, holy-crap-old-and-musty-smells-like-rot-Nosferatu-gonna-kill-me!
• And there’s always Edgar Allen Poe. Secretly, I imagine that his action figure wants to make out with our Jane action figure. But I’m pretty sure Action Jane wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him. She would have disapproved of his marrying his 13-year-old cousin and possible alcoholism-rabies-and/or-syphilitic death. (Then again, in the afterlife, Jane would enjoy a good laugh over people still trying to figure out how they both died.)
• If you’re more of a visual person, my new favorite time sink is looking at “spirit photography.” And I’m not just talking about what you see on Google. Even museums and archives have these sorts of images! Check out SFMOMA’s Artscope. Type in “spirit photography” into the search box, and all sorts of goodies show up. Those photos are almost as creepy as when Nicole Kidman finds the book of dead people in The Others. *shiver*
Jeez, now I’ve thoroughly creeped myself out. Why did I let myself watch that scene again? That’s almost as bad as when the dead girl comes out of the tv in The Ring. (There is nothing that will entice me to search for that clip on YouTube. I’ve been scarred for life seeing The Ring.) Rainbows! Unicorns! Colin Firth diving into a pond! Sunshiny goodness! Okay, I’m back.
• Maybe you should give Northanger Abbey another whirl. What’s not to love about a parody of gothic novels? It’s not scary.
• Or you could watch Revolution on NBC and wonder if it’s really possible for people to go a little feral when the power goes out. Timely, no? (Then again, Hurricane Sandy may have knocked out the power on the east coast, yet people still seem to be able to update their Facebook pages. Guess those phone chargers for the car were a good investment after all.)
Whatever your choice in spooky entertainment, we at Austenacious wish you a very safe and happy Halloween!
I know I’m no fun, but I think we’ve established that Jane Austen prequels, sequels, mash-ups, and other literary Photoshoppings make my heart sink and my blood pressure rise. It’s not that I don’t appreciate fandom (heaven knows I appreciate fandom), or that I don’t have a sense of humor about Jane—I do, and anything else would miss the point. This isn’t even a Jane Austen Hates You post; it’s just that, well, I don’t want the Darcys’ sex life play-by-play, and I don’t want to see the Bennet sisters fight monsters (sea, nocturnal blood-sucking, or otherwise), and I don’t want to hear about Jane coping as a swingin’ modern-day vampire looking for love in the big city.
To which I say, who doesn’t love a good bhangra number?
For me, it’s all a question of basic (if implied) intent. Austen sequels, mash-ups, and the like so often come across as attempts either to paint Jane in a hipper, funnier light—as if she needs the help—or to add to the canon she left behind. The implication is that Jane’s work has no place in contemporary culture if we don’t see it through the familiar lenses of bodice-rippers/Sex and the City/debilitating irony; even straight-up sequels set in Austen’s universe, which are clearly labors of love on the parts of the authors, tend to imply that Jane’s work deserves some kind of follow-up (and, with a brand of guts that I personally could never muster, that they are the one to provide it!). On the other hand, Bollywood Jane is—so far—a work of pure appreciation. In Bride and Prejudice, nobody ever implies that Austen needs changing or supplementing, or that the Indian audience wouldn’t relate to a straight re-telling. There’s no sense that the original novel would be better with a modern-day Indian setting; if anything, it’s the other way around. In fact, the change of scenery and style occurs almost separately from the story, and function as a tribute to the universality of Austen’s themes—as the setting changes, the narrative and key themes remain surprisingly the same.
Besides, Bollywood Jane gives a whole new meaning to the term “choreographed group dance.” I love a ball, indeed:
If Aisha can offer the same thoughtful, affectionate take on Emma, well, bring on the dhol.
And cue two young women in front of a TV. (Miss Osborne would have joined them had her health permitted it.) Due to technical difficulties (curse you, Comcast!), Miss Ball and Mrs. Fitzpatrick arrive on the scene ten minutes in. Please supply your own witty dialog for that period.
[Jane Fairfax leaves Donwell secretly.]
Miss Ball: I think Emma’s been running around Salzberg in nothing but some old drapes . . . from 1988. That dress is appalling.
[Mr. Knightley says that Emma might be mistress of Donwell, ha ha ha.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Hint, hint.
[Emma rants about Miss Bates.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: A bit of foreshadowing, is it?
Miss Ball: For the awkwardness that is to come. Sure.
[Mr. Knightley makes a rude comment about Frank Churchill, but it falls flat.]
Miss Ball: I love how Switzerland is the ends of the earth, instead of . . . the middle of Europe. I feel like, instead, he should backpack through Nepal with like six sherpas (because it’s not like he’s going to carry his own stuff) and listen to a lot of Dave Matthews Band.
Miss Ball: I know beer and cold meats do wonders for my constitution. Especially . . . together?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse just isn’t right. He doesn’t strike the sort of kindly silliness of Mr. Woodhouse.
Miss Osborne, there in spirit: The real Mr. Woodhouse wouldn’t have pterodactyl arms.
[A green blob—continued technical difficulties, we hope—appears on Mrs. Fitzpatrick's TV just as the party arrives at Boxhill.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: It’s THE BLOB!! From original Star Trek! It’s going to EAT THEM!!
[Frank Churchill inadvertently and singlehandedly chases the entire party away (therefore saving them from a green and blobby death, v. difficult to explain to the pre-NASA set).]
Miss Ball: Frank Churchill, Captain of Awkward Conversation.
[Mr. Knightley yells at Emma.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He just seems like a blustering schoolboy to me. No dignity. No style!
Miss Ball: I think he sounds like he’s yelling at a pet. Like she’s been scratching on the couch again.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: FAIL, Jonny Lee. FAIL.
[Emma converts to thoughtfulness and grace.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Look, she’s stepping into the light! I can’t stand it!
[Emma goes to the Bates's.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I swear Mrs. Bates is a zombie.
Miss Ball: I believe you could write a book about that and make some serious money.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That is SO five minutes ago, Miss Ball!
[Mr. Knightley thinks about kissing Emma's hand, but doesn't. Miss Ball thinks he was shaking it.]
Miss Ball: The 2005 P&P did that so much better.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They didn’t do that very well. Especially since you didn’t even get it!
Both: Clearly, we have moved past the time when a man taking a woman’s hand = HE’S GOING TO KISS HER HAND!!! [spontaneous flaily jazz-hands duet]
[Emma wants to reupholster Mr. Knightley's chair (or whatever the kids are calling it these days).]
Miss Ball: …with angels and unicorns, perhaps?
[Mrs. Churchill dies; everybody pretends to be sad while actually forming an emotional conga line.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That was actually pretty well done—that pretty much sums it up.
[Baby Frank Churchill rides away in his carriage in the past. Again.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Flashback attack!
[Frank and Jane Fairfax are reunited.]
Miss Ball: I’m sort of disappointed in Jane now. He’s such a douchebag. You can do better, Jane Fairfax! (Governess-hood notwithstanding.)
Frank Churchill: Now for the first time in our lives we can do anything we want!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That isn’t a Regency thought in the least—or at least not a Jane Austen thought.
Miss Ball: That’s a relief. Ugh.
[Emma hides behind a shrub, poorly, when Mr. Knightley arrives in the garden.]
Miss Ball: Don’t worry, Emma. . . we’ve all been there.
[Emma and Mr. Knightley walk and chat.]
Miss Ball: Are her long sleeves attached to anything, or are they just. . . sleeves? Because that’s sort of brilliant.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I actually don’t know. I do know Mrs. Bennet liked them! Kind of a punk look, you think?
Miss Ball: Just add safety pins. I like it.
[Mr. Knightley tries to propose.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He’s squinting. Why is he squinting?
Miss Ball: No room in those tight pants for his sunglasses.
[Emma bursts into Donwell crying, says she can't marry Mr. Knightley because of her father, and then bursts out again.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: What is this, a French farce? She’s not Lucille Ball, for goodness’ sake!
Miss Ball: A little abrupt, sure, but I think it’s okay. We’re running out of time.
[Mr. Knightley volunteers to move to Hartfield.]
Miss Ball: Mr. Knightley, you’ll never make it with the ladies if you keep telling them your heart is at your house.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: No, no, he means his heart is with Emma! He’s pointing at her!
Miss Ball: Ah, his heart—her—is at his house. Currently. But not forever. Riiiiight.
[Frank Churchill apologizes to Emma.]
Miss Ball: I do not forgive you, Frank Churchill.
[Mrs. Bates speaks.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: GASP! The zombie speaks!
Miss Bates: Mother has recovered her voice!
[Emma says goodbye to her father pre-honeymoon.]
Miss Ball: That is one yellow dress. Lucky for her she’s a summer.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Wait—they’re going on a honeymoon? So they must be married? These quick cuts are making me dizzy!
Miss Ball: I had the same question. Harriet and Robert Martin get married, and Emma and Mr. Knightley take a honeymoon? That’s some set-up.
[Emma rests her head on Mr. Knightley's shoulder.]
Miss Ball: That looks really uncomfortable. Much better after the carriage era.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They must be going to the seaside.
Emma: Oh! It’s the seaside!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I’m freakin’ prescient!
The Curmudgeonly Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Well, it had its moments. When they just let the actors speak and feel what Jane Austen wrote, it was fine—though really none of the main parts were convincing to me. But the additions were SO cheesy (Slow-motion flashbacks? Children torn asunder in the rain?) and the transitions were SO film-school (Look, there’s flowers now, it must be spring!), that I couldn’t really believe I was in the story. It’s a hard novel to adapt, but . . . they should have tried harder. Or less hard? It was too forced, and too sloppy for this purist.
The Happy-Go-Lucky Miss Ball: I agree with Mrs. F’s assessment of the hilariously melodramatic editing, but in general, I liked the whole product pretty well—it was certainly modern in feel, but not in a way that generally offended my not-very-strict sensibilities. I especially liked Romola Garai: she makes some fabulous faces, and her ability to both play and acknowledge awkward moments served her well in this particular instance. So, they certainly played fast and loose with the text, but I didn’t mind too much. Also, I sort of like Jonny Lee Miller in hero mode. (Less so in scoldish pet-owner mode.)
Miss Osborne: I ended up watching the rest of Emma this morning, and it almost made up for the earlier installments. With the exception of the sun rising over Emma and the unnecessary flashback of Frank Churchill leaving as a child, this installment was more thoughtful. I finally found myself rooting for Emma—for her emotional growth and the love between her and Mr. Knightley. Knightley, of course, is wonderful (though I think Jonny Lee Miller looks like a muppet when he’s not smiling). Unlike Mrs. F, I didn’t find him blustery in the Box Hill scene. He has every right to scold Emma, and I felt her pain. Hasn’t everyone been scolded at one point or another for doing something they knew was stupid? It hurts when someone you love is rightfully giving you the smack down. Overall, this mini-series was uneven, but the last hour was enjoyable.
In The Divine Jane, Fran Lebowitz says, “Any artist who has that quality of timelessness has that quality because they tell the truth. Obviously, details change. . . . Her perceptions don’t date because they are correct. And they will remain that way until human beings improve themselves intrinsically; and this will not happen.”
Witness Sir Walter and Miss Elliot confronting their financial situation at the beginning of Persuasion: “. . . he had gone so far even as to say, ‘Can we retrench? does it occur to you that there is any one article in which we can retrench?’—and Elizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first ardor of female alarm, set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposed these two branches of economy: to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new-furnishing the drawing-room; to which expedients she afterwards added the happy thought of their taking no present down to Anne, as had been the usual yearly custom.”
Oh yes, Jane knew what happens when people who have a lot have to face having less.
Do our times make us hunger for truth? Escaping the truth? Both? Lately I’ve read some interesting articles on desire for truth: truth in the bodies of models who walk the catwalk, the eroding and perhaps gone-forever truth of our photographs, the uncanny valley of avatars who look so like the humans (or monkeys) that they are not. Escapism is thriving too, of course—”reality shows,” alcohol sales, zombies, Mafia Wars, and Farmville, to name a few.
I like reading fiction because it’s easier than non-fiction. In non-fiction, you have to always be evaluating what the author says: is this true? Or does the author have some agenda? But in fiction, you just know whether it’s true: if it isn’t, something cracks, and you put the book down. Or did Jane actually teach me what is true in human relationships? This is possible. And in fiction there is of course the element of escapism: the characters seem to have so much time, and servants, and barouche-landaus. Their problems do not affect your life (except in certain modern adaptations.) The problems of non-fiction are all too depressingly real.
Do you read Jane Austen to find truth or to escape reality? Or both?
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
OMG, really? What’s with this fad of mashing up literature and disaster/monster porn?
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies got a ton of publicity, but, let’s just say it: it wasn’t very good. There was lots of obvious guy humor about balls (and how could they miss the intercourse jokes, if they’re going that route?) and only one scene that really spoke to our hearts: Lizzie kicking ass as a ninja. This, I can understand. We of the female persuasion all want to be Elizabeth Bennet, so they say, and who doesn’t feel a girl-power thrill at some Buffy-style action? But it was clear the author didn’t have any love for or understanding of the original book. It could have been any old book with a slightly prim reputation, and that’s where things go off the rails: if ”time for tea” vs. ”braiiiiiiins!” is your only joke, then 320 pages are going to seem really, really long. After a few battles with the undead, well, what’s the point?
Now there’s Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, wherein the Dashwood sisters move to an island and, apparently, fight off the evils of the deep. WTF? For one thing, if this had to be done, why not Persuasion, which already takes place (partially) near the sea? Could Captain Wentworth not have taken on the kraken? If, that is, it had to be done at all.
You know why it had to be done: it’s because zombies and monster/disaster porn are really, really popular right now. And it must be funny, right?, to contrast it with that very feminine and oh-so-coincidentally popular franchise of Jane Austen. And I think a lot of Austen fans are, like, “Hey, it’s Jane Austen and it’s popular! Go you!” But we deserve better. I mean, it’s all so obvious. And Miss Austen, boys and girls, did not dig obvious.
She had no problem with monsters in their place, being very fond of gothic novels, especially The Castle of Otranto, I think—in Northanger Abbey (and Pride and Prejudice) she ridicules people for saying they “don’t read novels,” which was evidently the “I only watch PBS” of the day. But she was very definite that monsters didn’t belong in her place – had no part in the reality she was trying to portray in her books.
I see the appeal, I really do. For example, right now I’m imagining Captain Wentworth and the intrepid Anne in a fight to the death with the aforementioned kraken. But mash-ups only work if you’re creating something new, bringing deeper humor or insight to Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, zombies, and sea monsters. And, call me crazy if you like, but I find it hard to imagine anyone bringing deeper humor or insight to Pride and Prejudice than is already there. Zombies, who knows?